How to paint white kitchen cabinets to make them look like oak

Updated November 21, 2016

Create the look of oak cabinets in your kitchen without spending money on new cabinets. Using paint to mimic a faux wood grain takes a little practice, but a small tool called a wood-graining comb will make the process easier. Practice painting on a piece of plywood before attempting to recreate the look on your cabinets to perfect your technique and avoid frustrating mistakes.

Clean the kitchen cabinets thoroughly with a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar.

Sand the cabinet faces with 80- to 100-grit sandpaper to roughen the surface so it accepts the paint. Don't worry about removing the white paint, just sand the surface until it feels slightly rough. Using a clean cloth, wipe away all dust created during sanding.

Paint the kitchen cabinets with a tan or light brown latex interior paint. This colour will be the base of your faux oak cabinets. Let the base coat dry completely.

Pour about 2 cups of the base colour paint into a bucket. Add 1/4 cup water to the bucket and mix it into the paint. Latex paint is water-based, so it can be thinned with water.

Mix a small amount of brown universal tint into the watered-down paint to darken the colour. Use just enough universal tint to make the paint a few shades darker than the original paint.

Apply the paint with a paintbrush to one surface of the cabinets, such as the front or a side of the cabinet. Immediately drag a wood-graining comb through the wet paint to create the look of oak wood grain. If you make a mistake, wipe the paint away with a damp cloth, apply a fresh coat of the thinned paint and start over with the wood-graining comb.

Continue to apply the paint and wood-grain effect to all surfaces of the cabinets.

Gently smooth a dry paintbrush over the paint after about 20 to 30 minutes to soften the pattern and make it look more like natural oak. Work in one direction and use very light pressure to avoid smearing the paint.

Cover your faux oak cabinets with two to three coats of a water-based clear polyurethane finish. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • 80- to 100-grit sandpaper
  • Clean cloth
  • Latex interior paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Bucket
  • Universal tint
  • Wood-graining comb
  • Damp cloth
  • Clear polyurethane
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About the Author

Kittie McCoy has been a freelance writer since 2008. She is also a part-time personal trainer and licensed entertainer in Las Vegas. She enjoys sharing her love of physical fitness and experience in the entertainment industry via her writing.